World Challenge Pulpit Series

Laying by the Pool

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By David Wilkerson
July 13, 1987

"Now there is at Jerusalem by the sheep market a pool, which is called in the Hebrew tongue, Bethesda, having five porches" (John 5:2).

The pool of Bethesda was most unusual in that the Jews had made it into a shrine of sorts. The pool was apparently fed by an underground stream and at certain seasons the water stirred. This unaccountable troubling of the water was attributed to an unseen angel who released healing power into the pool, and the first infirm person to enter was healed.

The pool became a kind of Jewish Lourdes - and multitudes of crippled, paralyzed and handicapped people gathered to wait for the water to move, hoping they would be the lucky ones. Some scholars suggest the five porches were constructed to shelter the multitudes who camped around the pool. The Word says that by this pool "lay a great multitude of impotent folk, of blind, halt, withered, waiting for the moving of the water."(John 5:3) I believe John is simply stating a tradition of the Jews when he writes, "For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool, and troubled the water: whosoever then first after the troubling of water stepped in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had" (John 5:4).

I believe John recorded this Jewish tradition just as the Jews believed it - to expose its weakness and limitation as compared to the all-inclusive, absolute healing power of Jesus Christ.

The Troubling of the Water
Must Have Created a Mob Reaction.

I don't serve a God who would cause such a horrible scene of selfishness and disregard for hurting humanity. Possibly only the strong, the rude, the self-centered could push and shoulder their way to a slot nearest the pool. The rich, the important could perhaps make the poor step aside to make room. Those with the strongest, healthiest friends could conceivably muscle their way over other poor cripples to get their friend into the pool first. Certainly only the most agile and alert could get to the water first.

I was horror stricken by what I once beheld in the parking lot outside the auditorium where Kathryn Kuhlman was conducting a healing meeting. Parking attendants couldn't control the drivers who were trying to nose others out of position to get one space ahead of another. Some fenders were crunched. Miss Kuhlman probably was never told, and she would have been mortified. Such greed by some - such self-centeredness - maneuvering to be sure they got ahead of others to get a good seat in the healing meeting. Some of those pushy drivers must have thought the end justified the means - after all, they were doing it for the sake of a very sick mother, a crippled child, a dying friend or relative.

Such must have been the scene when the cry went up, "The water - now! Quick - it's moving!" What a mad rush it had to be, with the hopes of the weakest and neediest dashed because some more nimble soul got there first. One poor cripple heard that cry for 38 years. He had no chance, for as he dragged his crippled body a few feet, it was all over. Another stepped into the pool first and there was no power left to help him.

No, Jesus will have no part in this wheel-of-fortune pool! No doubt many were healed - just as many have been healed at Lourdes and at shrines all over the world. God has so made the human body with marvelous innate healing powers - often released by hope and faith. Some may have truly believed God and were healed miraculously. That people were healed is not in question. But each healing could only create more anguish and hopelessness for the neediest who had waited so long in vain. Those who came from long distances would have been truly devastated.

If the money-mad priests were buying and selling in the temple, can you imagine how they must have preyed upon those helpless people. I believe there were food vendors, souvenir booths, sellers of blankets and all kinds of religious items. Wherever there was a multitude, there were the religious thieves and hucksters. It's the same today. Jesus must have been appalled by the ugliness of it all.

Jesus had just come from the well at Sychar, having revealed to a Samaritan woman that He Himself was Living Water. The healing water of life was not in a pool but within the heart by faith - "a well springing up into everlasting life" (John 4:10-14).

It must be understood that every poor soul laying by that pool already had something better than a discriminating moving of the water. They had the precious promises of a loving God who had made provision to heal them all. They had Moses and the prophets, and they had the glorious Psalms of David.

What greater promise than this which God gave through Moses: "If thou wilt diligently hearken to the voice of the Lord thy God, and wilt do that which is right in his sight, and wilt give ear to his commandments, and keep all his statutes, I will put none of these diseases upon thee, which I have brought upon the Egyptians: for I am the Lord that healeth thee" (Exodus 15:26). And from David, the Psalmist: "Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits: who forgiveth all thine iniquities; who healeth all thy diseases" (Psalm 103:2,3). And the prophets: "For I will not contend for ever, neither will I be always wroth [angry]: for the spirit should fail before me, and the souls which I have made. For the iniquity of his covetousness was I wroth, and smote him: I hid me, and was wroth, and he went on frowardly [backsliding] in the way of his heart. I have seen his ways, and will heal him: I will lead him also, and restore comforts unto him and to his mourners" (Isaiah 57:16-18). "Come, and let us return unto the Lord: for he hath torn, and he will heal us; he hath smitten, and he will bind us up" (Hosea 6:1). "Heal me, O Lord, and I shall be healed; save me, and I shall be saved; for thou art my praise" (Jeremiah 17:14).

This hurting multitude was spiritually blind to God's Word. They were not laying there handicapped and crippled because they were all horrible sinners - for when Christ was approached by his disciples about a man who was blind from birth - they asked him, "Who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?" (John 9:2). Jesus answered, "Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in Him" (John 9:3). No doubt sin had brought sickness and disease upon many of them - but not all. God could have received great glory had they sought out His Word and acted with as much confidence in what He promised as they did toward getting first into the pool.

According to the Scriptures - they were waiting for the wrong thing! They were told to wait on the Lord - and upon His Word alone. "I wait for the Lord, my soul doth wait, and in his word do I hope. My soul waiteth for the Lord more than they that watch for the morning: I say, more than they that watch for the morning" (Psalm 130:5,6). "Truly my soul waiteth upon God; from him cometh my salvation. He only is my rock and my salvation; he is my defense; I shall not be greatly moved....My soul, wait thou only upon God; for my expectation is from him. He only is my rock and my salvation: he is my defense; I shall not be moved" (Psalm 62:1,2,5,6).

Jesus was drawn to a certain impotent man laying by the pool. "And a certain man was there, which had an infirmity thirty and eight years. When Jesus saw him lie, and knew that he had been now a long time in that case, he saith unto him, Wilt thou be made whole?" (John 5:5,6). This unnamed crippled man has many faces and he represents multitudes of impotent Christians who are in a hopeless condition. Jesus knew what was in the minds of every one of these poor, helpless souls. Just as Jesus knew what the woman at the well was thinking - He knew what this impotent man was thinking. "Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do" (Hebrews 4:13). Perhaps he was the weakest and the neediest, with the longest enduring infirmity of them all. Jesus was always drawn to the greatest need. Certainly thirty-eight years of dashed hopes, unbearable sufferings, and loneliness must have taken a great toll on him.

Impotency comes in many forms. It can be physical, spiritual, mental - or all of these at once. Mentally and spiritually you may be that man laying by the pool! You are in a situation that seems hopeless - and you see no way out. No one really understands the depth of your suffering - no one seems to care enough to stop and help; there is not a single friend or loved one with the time, love or energy to really touch the hurt in you.

I think of the prostitute in Lower East Side, New York City, on a park bench, cuddling a ragged bag lady in her arms. The bag lady was sick, weeping, and the hard-looking prostitute was stroking her hair, tears running down her own face because of deep hurts - assuring her, "Honey, it's all right, we'll survive! I love you! Don't cry!"

Take a good look at that impotent man, and think of the years of struggle, the hurts heaped upon him by uncaring, insensitive people. How often he must have lifted a withered hand to those rushing by to get their own needs met, crying, "Someone, help! Please! I can't do it on my own!"

There are multitudes of Christians who are spiritually helpless and impotent because of a lingering battle with lust or some besetting sin that has robbed them of spiritual life and vitality. They lay helpless on the bed of depression and despair, always hoping for a miracle, always reaching out for love, always waiting for someone to stir things up and make something happen! They spend their life waiting for that one great life-changing miracle. They drag themselves to meeting after meeting, counseling sessions, seminars - and they tell and retell their story of pain and woe. But nothing changes.

Why Did Jesus Ask This Disabled Man,
"Wilt Thou be Made Whole?"

Wouldn't everyone in such a pitiful condition want to be healed? Certainly the Lord had a good reason for asking such a penetrating question. The question inferred the man may not have had a will to be healed. Jesus knew he had been in this pitiful condition for years, and that much effort had been spent in seeking help - but on this particular Sabbath day, Jesus asked him, "Do you really want to be healed?"

There is a danger in prolonged agony and pain - and that is to finally give up, embrace the sorrow, and just make do with things as they are. The Puritans called it, "hugging the pain."

I once found a teenage boy living in a dark, rat-infested basement. His bed was a pile of filthy rags. He was living like a wild dog, and he was hopelessly addicted to heroin. I took him to our drug center, gave him new clothes, a clean bed, good food, and lots of love and gospel. He was miserable and soon returned to his dungeon. He later told me, "You see it as a hole; to me it's home. I'm comfortable down here; I've grown used to it. I like being alone, free. Please don't try to change me." He died of hepatitis less than a year later.

I asked an elderly bag lady in Greenwich Village to let me contact the welfare people and get her into a shelter. She was living in the park, very overweight, sick and looking so forlorn. "Please don't," she pleaded. "I've been taken in and had a room and bed but I was miserable! I slept on the floor. I'm use to it out here - I get by. Thanks anyhow!"

The Lord's question implied the man was not ready to face the responsibility that goes with being made whole. Listen to the man's immediate response. Rather than a joyful, expectant, "Yes, I will be healed" - he answered, "Sir, I have no man" (John 5:7). I call it the "no-man, someone" syndrome. "No one really cares." "It's somebody else's fault!" It sounds like bitterness had built up in him, and even though it was all true, it just compounded his problem. He was not only physically impaired, he was degenerating mentally and spiritually because of bitterness. I suspect he finally gave up even trying to be healed.

It is so sad, but true, that many hurting people could not survive without their sorrow and pain. I am not speaking about the "many afflictions of the righteous" which we all endure at times. I am speaking about people who have built their very lives around pain, affliction and suffering. They have complained and discussed their situation so often and for so long that if they were healed, they would have nothing to talk about. They have been sad and murmuring for so long, it has become an addiction. If they were healed it would mean learning a whole new way of life. They'd have to learn a new language of hope. They'd have the responsibility of learning to be joyful and encouraging to others.

So no one cares! So others have hurt you! So you seem to have more hard times, more suffering, more struggles than others around you! According to God's Word all your suffering can be turned about to bring much glory to the Lord. Wait on the Lord and seek His Word and the power of the Lord is sure to be manifested on your behalf and your deliverance can be a testimony to the greatness of the Lord. But those who refuse to turn to the Lord turn inward! Suffering has the potential of turning people into grumbling, self-centered cripples wallowing in self-pity. How miserable to live with someone like that, because they measure your love by your willingness to cater to their emotional pain.

I have seen my dear wife go through long struggles with pain - from cancer, from the removal of body organs, from a mastectomy. She was overwhelmed with both physical and emotional pain for years. There were times she was on the brink of giving in to it all - and escaping into a shell of numbness. But in her most painful times she would turn to the Lord. She would be given a glorious promise from the Word and cling to it. Through trusting the Lord she didn't ask, "Why me, Lord," even after five operations for cancer. She found Him precious, real and always near through it all. And it has made her sweeter, stronger, and purer

This Man Was Made Whole Because
He Obeyed the Word of the Lord!

"Jesus saith unto him, Rise, take up thy bed, and walk" (John 5:8). He may have heard about Jesus; he may have thrilled to stories told him of one going about in their land, healing. He was probably told of this same man cracking a whip in the temple, driving out all the money-changers. According to John, that had happened just prior to his visit at the pool of Bethesda. But certainly this man did not know Him; he was not at all intimate with Jesus. He did not recognize Him, having been so trapped by his infirmity. But Jesus knew all about him! Jesus had come to him in his misery and sorrow - and mercy was about to spring forth! Jesus did not cross examine him; He did not rebuke him for bitterness or self-pity. The blessed Lord was touched with the feelings of this poor brother's infirmity. At this time Jesus made no moral demands. All Jesus asked of him was to believe His Word and act on it. "Rise! Take up your bed! Walk - away from this scene!"

Later, after his healing, Jesus would find him in the temple. He would hear the Lord's command to "go and sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon you" (v.14). He would get to know Jesus and trust Him. But now, laying by the pool helpless and in despair, he faced the biggest decision of all his painful years. A Word of resurrection hope had come to him! He was being challenged: Rise by faith - be made whole - join the living - or lay there in self pity and die all alone!

What would have happened if that man had continued to lay by the pool in disbelief, refusing to move, thinking to himself, "It won't work; I've been useless to Him; I've been of no worth to anyone! Why would God suddenly choose to pick me out of all this hurting multitude to heal me? Thank you, Sir, for caring enough to speak to me - but I'm destined to die in this condition." Jesus could not have helped him. He could not force him or raise him up against his will. The man had to believe this was God at work, that his cries had been heard and his time for deliverance had come. Now or never!

This Beautiful Story Is A True Revelation
Of The Loving Heart Of God For All Who Suffer!

"Then answered Jesus and said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise. For the Father loveth the Son, and showeth him all things that himself doeth; and he will show him greater works than these, that ye may marvel" (John 5:19, 20). In essence, Jesus was saying to the Pharisees, "My Father wanted him healed, so I healed him. I do only what my Father wills." It was God's will, God's love - God's desire, to make this man completely whole. It is so difficult when you are down and weak to believe God still loves you! When years have been wasted, when sin has crippled your body and soul, when you feel worthless and displeasing to God and you wonder why He would even still care - it is then that it takes child-like faith to accept that love and step out in faith and say, "Lord - on your word alone I will arise - get up out of this crippling weakness - and walk with you!"

You don't have to understand full all the doctrines about repentance, sin and holiness. You may not even know Jesus in any deep and meaningful way! But there is time for that; it will all be made known if you take the first step of obedience and rise up and turn to the Lord. "If any man do his will, he shall know of the doctrine" (John 7:17)

I believe God's great love and mercy is revealed in response to a cry from the heart - not just any cry - but a cry to the Lord, a cry for deliverance, a cry of humility and helplessness. I believe Jesus came to the man in answer to a deep and agonizing heart cry to the Father. The Bible has much to say about this cry from the heart. "In my distress I called upon the Lord, and cried unto my God; he heard my voice out of his temple, and my cry came before him, even into his ears" (Psalm 18:6). "Many times did he deliver them; but they provoked him with their counsel, and were brought low for their iniquity. Nevertheless he regarded their affliction, when he heard their cry" (Psalm 106:43, 44). "Fools because of their transgression, and because of their iniquities, are afflicted. Their soul abhorreth all manner of meat; and they draw near unto the gates of death. They cry unto the Lord in their trouble, and he saveth them out of their distresses. He sent his word, and healed them, and delivered them from their destruction. Oh that men would praise the Lord for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men!" (Psalm 107:17-21). You can be sure that a cry to God from the heart will always be answered by the coming forth of a healing word from heaven!

No one is too far gone, too wicked or too hopeless - if there is a reaching out to God in Humility. The story of the wicked King Manasseh proves it! The Bible sets him forth as one of the most wicked Kings of Israel. He is the type of backslidden, spiritual impotence. What an incredibly wicked man he was. "And he did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord, after the abominations of the heathen, whom the Lord cast out before the children of Israel. For he built up again the high places which Hezekiah his father had destroyed; and he reared up altars for Baal, and made a grove, as did Ahab king of Israel; and worshipped all the host of heaven, and served them. And he made his sons pass through the fire and observed times, and used enchantments, and dealt with familiar spirits and wizards; he wrought much wickedness in the sight of the Lord, to provoke him to anger. But they harkened not; and Manasseh seduced them to more evil than did the nations whom the Lord destroyed before the children of Israel. Because Manasseh king of Judah hath done these abominations, and hath done wickedly above all that the Amorites did, which were before him, and hath made Judah also to sin with his idol; therefore thus saith the Lord God Israel, Behold, I am bringing such evil upon Jerusalem and Judah, that whosoever heareth of it, both his ears shall tingle. And I will stretch over Jerusalem the line of Samaria, and the plummet of the house of Ahab; and I will wipe Jerusalem as a man wipeth a dish, wiping it, and turning it upside down. Moreover Manasseh shed innocent blood very much, till he had filled Jerusalem from one end to another; beside his sin wherewith he made Judah to sin, in doing that which was evil in the sight of the Lord" (2 Kings 21:2-16). "So Manasseh made Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem to err, and to do worse than the heathen, whom the Lord had destroyed before the children of Israel. And the Lord spake to Manasseh, and to his people; but they would not hearken" (2 Chronicles 33:9,10).

Can God still love and forgive such a grossly wicked man! Is there hope for one who gets so far from God, so possessed by evil and darkness? Yes! If he will seek God, humble himself and go back and make things right.

He ends up bound with chains, a prisoner in Babylon. What a vivid picture of the wages of sin, of what happens when the Lord is forsaken and Satan moves in. He ends up as helpless as the man laying by the pool. But in his affliction he cried out and God heard him, forgave him, and restored him.

God forgave and healed a man I find very difficult to forgive for what he did. "And he was in affliction, he besought the Lord His God, and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers, and prayed unto him; and he was entreated of him, and heard his supplication, and brought him again to Jerusalem into his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the Lord he was God. And he took away the strange gods, and the idol out of the house of the lord, and all the altars that he had built in the mount of the house of the Lord, and in Jerusalem, and cast them out of the city. Now the rest of the acts of Manasseh, and his prayer unto his God, and the words of the seers that spake to him in the name of the Lord God of Israel, behold, they are written in the book of the kings of Israel. His prayer also, and how God was entreated of him, and all his sins, and his trespass, and the places wherein he built high places, and set up groves and graven images, before he was humbled; behold, they are written among the saying of the seers" (2 chronicles 33:12-19).

The word of hope, forgiveness, mercy, love and restoration has come to you through this message. Cry aloud! Heed his Word, repent, then rise - walk with the Lord and be made whole!

Used with permission granted by World Challenge, P. O. Box 260, Lindale, TX 75771 USA.

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